What happened to OWID?
Oroville-Wyandotte Irrigation District Retires
by Michael Glaze, General Manager
After about a year of planning and evaluation, the OWID Board of Directors took action at its meeting on May 27, 2003 to change the District’s name to South Feather Water and Power Agency (SFWPA). The Board’s decision to change the name was based upon a number of reasons. Especially important to directors was to have the name more accurately describe both the District’s purpose and the area it serves.
Although SFWPA provides domestic and irrigation water to portions of southeast Butte County that are close to the City of Oroville, California Water Service is the utility that delivers water to the residents and businesses of Oroville. While the Agency serves a few customers who are within the city’s boundaries, its primary service area involves the communities of Kelly Ridge, Palermo, Bangor, Wyandotte, and points in between. While Wyandotte was a distinct and separate community in the early 20th century, it only has geographic identifiability for those who have been in the Oroville area for some time, but not to most of the agencies and companies outside the area with whom the Agency does business. Neither “Oroville” or “Wyandotte” helped to identify the district’s large service area as it is now configured.
From a legal perspective, SFWPA continues to operate under the California’s Irrigation Code. Nevertheless, notwithstanding the title of the law by which the Agency was originally formed, it primarily functions – as permitted by that law – as a domestic water retailer and a hydropower generator. While irrigation water is and will continue to be an important part of the services provided, it is not the principal function of South Feather Water and Power Agency.
Because the Agency’s hydropower project is licensed by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and is under the authority of many other state and federal environmental regulatory agencies, it is important that these entities understand the Agency’s source of water and location of operation. The Feather River is the Agency’s source of water and it has geographic identifiability for those in the regulatory business. Further, the name “South Feather” ensures that the Agency is identified as being above the confluence of the forks of the river; that is, above Lake Oroville. This ensures that regulators and others will understand that the Agency’s water rights and facilities are above and not a part of the State’s Lake Oroville project and associated down-river issues.
The Board also wanted a name that would reflect the historical heritage of OWID, appreciating that its roots extend back to the California gold rush. The ditch system utilized for irrigation water by the Agency today is a modification and expansion of the ditch network constructed by early miners who diverted water from the Feather River to their mining claims. In the late 19th century, as mining gave way to agriculture, the South Feather Land and Water Company acquired many of the miners’ ditches. Then, in 1919, Oroville-Wyandotte Irrigation District was formed and assumed responsibility for the South Feather Land and Water Company’s water distribution system. Thus, the name “South Feather” provides and maintains a historical link with the Agency’s progenitor.
Although many SFWPA customers are not aware that it is a producer of hydro-electricity, power has been a major component of the Agency’s operations since the 1960s. Adding “Power” to the name more completely describes who it is.